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Burning Man. The yearly, week long event hosted in the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada brings together over 50,000 people. They come from all over to spend a week together in an experimental community where art, self expression and self reliance are the driving force. There's no money at Burning Man, you bring or trade what you need, and there's a sense of freedom, a sense that for that one week in the desert, you live without rules, without expectation and without limits. The reality is that Burning Man only appears to be carefree and without rules. The event doesn't simply spring out of thin air every year, it takes a staff of 50, with the help of 4,000 volunteers, working year round to ensure the event happens, and it certainly isn't without some rules; it simply appears that way.

Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter's documentary SPARK: A Burning Man Story tracks the 2012 event from the early planning stages right through the final Saturday when the 100 and some odd foot statue at the centre of Black Rock City is burned to a crisp and ends on the final cleanup. Along the way we meet the men and women who founded and continue to organize the event and see some of the challenges they are faced with. This particular year saw the event grow to its largest number and we're privy to some of the backroom discussion as organizers struggle to come up with a ticketing system that is fair and gives everyone an opportunity to attend. Deeter and Brown also introduce a handful of artists working on projects for the event and we learn that it's not only about creating for some burning personal reason and that for some, it's a place to display their work to appreciative fans.


Burning Man has changed. What started as an offshoot of Larry Harvey's 1986 event on Baker Beach in San Francisco has turned into an event that changes lives. Many come for a week long party but others are there to share in a unique community experience that has or will change the way they see the world. SPARK does a fantastic job of outlining the logistics of putting an event of this size together but it fails almost completely on another level: showing what Burning Man means to people. How it changes them. It's an event about building community and relationships and yet the documentary doesn't once stop to ask any of the attendees why they're there. It also steers clear of the problems on the ground. 50,000 people gathered together for a week... it's impossible to believe there isn't one bad seed among them and that's not something which is explored. It's mentioned in passing by Harvey as he discusses the 1996 event but for the most part, SPARK paints a pretty picture, almost like a sales video for the event, without getting into the gritty details. What they don't seem to get is that Burning Man doesn't need a sales pitch. The very fact the it brings together so many people is pitch enough and what's really interesting isn't necessarily how it comes together but why.

SPARK: A Burning Man Story is beautifully shot and wonderfully captures the massive proportions of the event but it doesn't really tell "a" Burning Man story, it's "the" Burning Man story. It's an interesting and nice looking documentary about the challenges of putting on a massive event but sadly, it's divorced from what makes the event so special: the people.

SPARK: A Burning Man Story opens in New York and Los Angeles today and is available on VOD August 17th. Screening details are available at the film's website.

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